Friday, June 27, 2008
Thievery Corporation at Central Park Summerstage, 06/26/08
I got a brief taste of Thievery Corporation years ago at Austin City Limits. More familiar to their chill and groove sounds, I was surprised by how the live performance translated into such a high energy, exciting show. Their set was only 40 minutes so I was left salivating for more.
Fast forward a few years and I finally got a chance to see them again at Summerstage in Central Park. It was another outdoor venue and billed as a full band show which also featured Seu Jorge. My expectations were sky-high.
Despite forecasts of rain and dark skies all afternoon, the weather ended up being perfect: no rain and not too hot. Between this and the Yankee game that also miraculously went rain-free, I must’ve built up some serious weather karma. Getting absolutely drenched on the way to Murakami might’ve done it.
I wasn’t aware that there were three opening acts to Thievery Corporation and I feel as though I spent most of the night watching stage hands set up and take down equipment. Boo.
But I was pleasantly surprised at the first act, Federico Aubele, a latin guitar player and singer with hints of electronica. His music drew heavily from his homeland, Argentina, and I enjoyed his performance much more than the other two acts. Best song IMO was Esta Noche. He’s definitely worth checking out.
And of course there’s Thievery Corporation. Their setup was exactly how I remember, two percussionists, the same tall, lanky bassist, a sitar/guitar player, a horn section, and as the centerpiece a spacious DJ setup.
They pulled out all the stops, utilizing 7 different lead vocalists/rappers, which doesn’t even count their special guest, Seu Jorge. The belly dancer was the best addition to the show. Of the few that I’ve seen, she was by far the best. Her moves had the entire audience hypnotized. It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous and voluptuous. I can’t fail to mention that she had absolutely ripped abs. Seriously, I was kind of jealous.
By the time Thievery Corporation came on, I was hoping the sound guys would’ve been able to work out their issues. Heavy feedback from the mics was a problem throughout the night and had an obvious effect on all of the singers’ concentration. There also seemed to be issues with singers hearing themselves. The first two vocalists were severely off key and visibly struggling with the speakers around them. I doubt it was the fault of the singers because their subsequent performances were flawless. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed with the crew.
The other major disappointment was the shortness of the concert. Central Park has a strict 10pm curfew so Thievery Corporation were only on for about 90 minutes and unable to come back on for an encore. I came into the show expecting something closer to 2 hours. Each singer was only able to do 2 or 3 songs, and “special guest” Seu Jorge only really did one song! He did back up vocals on a second, but come on! The round-robin aspect of so many singers seems pretty rare in a live show; I just wish there was more time for each one.
Of all the vocalists, without question the most impressive was Sleepy Wonder, the reggae rapper. His explosive, rapid-fire, staccato deliveries were some of the most unique I’d ever heard in rap.
It’s strange how Thievery Corporation consists of two the DJs, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, but the shows focus so much more on the vocalists and instrumentalists. Usually a DJ set is comprised solely of a couple of DJs at turntables. Which is why I sometimes struggle to describe the “band”. I resist calling it electronic because their sounds are so much more organic, and not relying on synthesized elements. They infuse sounds from so many other countries and cultures but I can’t call it world music. Like the term “alternative”, I feel that the genre “electronica” is used for such a wide range that it pretty much fails to adequately describe most musicians that are lumped into the category.
All I can say is that I’ve been listening to their albums for almost 10 years now... (Yes, pre-Garden State era. God, it’s amazing how much I loathe that soundtrack now. Funny thing is I was listening to just about every band on that album beforehand. I guess I really am a music snob.) ...Anyway, I’ve always loved the music that Thievery produce and how they continually explore new avenues. I’ll also say that they’re one of the few acts that I wouldn’t hesitate to see again and again whenever they come around. Their shows are an amazing spectacle and I’m glad they’ve pulled out all the stops the two times I’ve seen them.
Now if only they’d play longer sets.